Atypical can and should become a hit for Netflix. If only because it isn’t trying to be a hit and reminds you why Netflix used to be on such a pedestal. For this is a story you can’t imagine network, cable, or the premium stations offering. It is the type of program you can only imagine on Netflix.
Being 18 and on the spectrum has made life a bit difficult for Sam (Keir Gilchrist). However, thanks to his overbearing mom Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), bodyguard/sister Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine), and doctor Julia (Amy Okuda), he is able to handle daily life tasks. Of which include going to work and school. However, Sam wants more than that at this point – he wants to date.
Something which maybe a struggle since Sam, while high functioning, is still autistic. So between him being highly literal, not fond of soft touching but preferring pressure, and a slew of other things, patience will be highly important with any girl who comes near. But, from what it seems, he found ways around other things which made him uncomfortable so it is just a matter of time before Sam can be part of the 9% [note]We are told only 9% of those on the spectrum marry and it is mostly because they don’t know how or have been given the tools to date.[/note].
I’m always mean to people I like. I think it’s ‘cause I expect so much.
- Elsa having an affair.
- Casey and Sam finding love and having their first time.
- Sam’s first real “I love you” rejection coming from Julia.
- Sam’s dad Doug (Michael Rapaport) having a breakthrough with Sam and them finding something to truly bond over.
- What it is like to have an autistic child who you want and wish was average.
- Showing the capabilities of autistic people if they are given the tools for autonomy.
- Seeing discrimination against autistic people.
So Cringey in a Good Way
Sam is literal to a fault, does and says weird things to maintain a certain level of comfort and on top of that is very specific about how he is touched. With all that in play, he has quite a few obstacles in front of him. However, he is shown as someone girls both online and in person could be comfortable with. Problem is, things start off good then nose dive.
One prime, and very cringey, example is how he was about to have his first time with this college girl. Someone who liked his quirkiness, but as she was caressing him he got so comfortable he pushed her off her own bed. Though maybe that is not cringey enough? How about him going on a coffee date with ear cancelling headphones and using weird pick up lines and trying to insult the girl into liking him? Even asking if she’d be willing to get rid of her cat for him?
Maybe reading it you might not help you see how cringey it is, but watching it may lead you to mute the scene. Heck, you might even feel the need to turn your head away. #Triggered
The Chemistry Between Characters
I can’t recall a show on Netflix in which every character clicked as well with each other as they potentially could for the viewer. Just to bring up some examples, unlike many parents in media, I can fathom why Doug and Elsa now only got together, had kids, and got married, but why they are still together despite their struggles. I can understand Casey and Sam’s relationship and appreciate how she doesn’t baby him like their mom does and just treats him like a normal person. She picks on him, defends him, and openly rolls her eyes at him when he says something asinine.
And even outside of Sam’s family, you see quite the lovely combinations. Sam’s relationship with work friend Zahid (Nik Dodani) and Julia are truly astounding. Zahid, as Casey, doesn’t talk down or seem to really modify themselves because of Sam being on the spectrum. He treats him like he would any other dude, especially one he has invested his time in. So watching him, alongside Doug to a lesser extent, give Sam love advice was cute. Touching even.
Then with Julia, what I love about her scenes with Sam is just getting the idea of how Sam processes things. Much less showing the importance of therapy. Plus, she really helps battle against the type of characters you usually see when we witness people like Sam. She isn’t like Elsa who underestimates Sam’s capabilities and puts a “one-day” label on all his goals. Julia encourages him and is written in such a way that I’m sure if a parent has an autistic child or maybe someone with autism watches this, not only will they possibly identify with Sam but want someone like Julia in their life.
While the diversity in this show doesn’t necessarily mean we get some of Zahid and Julia’s culture, at least in the premiere, it is nice to see two important people in Sam’s life having real purpose. Julia is a rock in Sam’s life and isn’t presented as some sort of token. Then with Zahid, on top of him repping for Indian folk, he shows it isn’t just family which see Sam as a regular, everyday kind of guy. Those outside that inner circle too can learn to adapt to him and make him feel like he isn’t an outsider.
On The Fence
The Affair Possibilities
Part of my worry for this show is being that Jennifer Jason Leigh is the producer and one of the stars, she isn’t going to let this show revolve around Sam’s character alone. Likely, Elsa is going to be given a storyline that hopefully is enough to show she has a life outside of Sam but isn’t necessarily trying to compete with it. You know what I mean?
For while you can understand how perhaps Sam puts a strain on her marriage, alongside other things, watching her flirt with the idea of having an affair isn’t that interesting. Especially to become something which competes with the main plot. So I just hope she stays in the lane of a supporting character who has her own life. That is, versus trying to share the starring role with Gilchrist.
Initial Impression: Positive (Watch This)
I think I truly am going to love this show. Gilchrist presents Sam as the type of character you are likely to laugh with, admittedly sometimes at, cry with, and also make you cringe. Then, in terms of the supporting characters, as long as Leigh doesn’t try to push her character to be side by side with Gilchrist, I can’t see anything here going wrong. From Sam’s family to friends, and associates, they are shown just enough in his world so that we get their important. Something which is matched by us being told and shown they have their own lives outside of Sam.
But what really leads to the initial impression this will be rated positive, when the season review is done, is this show has no peers really. It reminds you of why Netflix has become such a huge platform. For there once was a time where you couldn’t imagine their shows being anywhere else. You couldn’t imagine Orange is the New Black or Sense8 on HBO, The Get Down on BET, One Day At a Time on ABC, or even something like Girlboss on MTV. Netflix had a brand all of its own and seemed to be looking for stories that its “competitors” didn’t put the time and have faith to invest in. For they truly were willing to take risks. The kind which was more about presenting quality stories, and hoping they got subscribers in the process than trying to always aim for big hits to see spikes in their subscriptions.